Welcome to Office Hours, where members of the Argent community share personal career stories and, in the process, dispense invaluable advice, rare insight, and inspiration through lived experiences. Grab a seat—office hours are now open.
CEO, Citizens of Humaity, AGOLDE, & Goldsign
The denim industry has changed quite a lot in the past 13 years (ask anyone with a firm stance on the debate between high-rise and low-waist jeans). But some things have been mainstays. For one, denim continues to be one of the most universal textiles women live their everyday lives in. And two, Amy Williams has been at the helm of one of the most influential premium denim brands in the world: Citizens of Humanity.
Williams held roles at Gap and Lucky Brand before joining Citizens in 2009 and quickly ascended to CEO. She oversees all its brands, including Citizens of Humanity, Goldsign, and Argent’s most recent partner, AGOLDE, the white-hot label known for modern interpretations of your favorite vintage jeans. For Williams, denim and workwear are one and the same, and in the debut of AGOLDE for Argent, she and her team worked closely with Argent and its founder, Sali Christeson, to create a first-of-its-kind collection of jeans for professionals of all sorts.
In this month’s Office Hours, Williams shares how she transitioned her love of denim into a career legacy, how she’s looking toward the future with sustainability at the forefront, and why she’s excited by working with like-minded collaborators.
WE HEAR YOUR LOVE OF DENIM GOES FAR BACK. HOW DID THAT PASSION ULTIMATELY LEAD TO A CAREER?
“It started off pretty young. I appreciated and wanted to wear jeans at a very early age; even though my mother thought I should be wearing a dress to school, I found a way to circumvent that. I started working retail in high school and continued as I was paying my way through college. I studied political science at SUNY Buffalo and planned to go to law school, but I realized I didn’t love all of the classes and coursework as much as I loved my retail job I was working in the afternoons and on weekends. I paid attention to that voice and kept looking for opportunities that would allow me to have access to that kind of work in New York.
“Fashion is really interesting and denim is interesting to me because it suits my personality. I like things that are accessible to more people. I love and appreciate luxury brands, but I think one of the reasons we were attracted to working with Argent was because it’s a product that’s still an investment—and our products are certainly an investment—but they’re accessible and they’re the kind of things you can wear in your everyday life. It’s about how you choose to style them and how your personality tends to show through—with denim or Argent separates. That’s what makes it fun. And there’s a confidence people feel when they put on something that makes them feel good and is also very much themselves.”
HOW DID YOU BECOME THE CEO OF CITIZENS OF HUMANITY?
“They were looking for an executive and someone I had worked with at the Gap, Adriano Goldschmied, put my name up for consideration. I had always worked in corporate positions but at the time I was based in the Bay Area and working at a company my husband and I started. Gary Freedman—who was one of the founders—called me about the opportunity and I told him I wasn’t interested.
“Then I got a note from Adriano saying ‘Gary wants to talk to you.’ He was coming to San Franciso and he said ‘Let’s just have coffee.’ It was supposed to be an hour meeting and three and a half hours later, we were still talking. I thought, ‘This is a brand that I shopped. I appreciated it when it launched. If I look at it now critically, I would do some things differently, but it’s a category of product that I love and I think I can come in and add value.’
“My husband and I just had our twin daughters and I was getting ready to go back to the company we started, but that didn’t feel right to me. And life is too short. So we decided that Citizens felt like the right opportunity. I took the executive role and then a few years later I was promoted to CEO.”
WHAT DOES THE WORKDAY LOOK LIKE FOR THE CEO OF A PROMINENT DENIM BRAND?
“I triangulate between three different things. Firstly, anything that’s consumer-facing. So, working with creative directors on what the line and collections will look like for each of our brands, working with the sales teams to think about and strategize globally, and working with the marketing and branding teams. The second part is financial. I’m looking at the overall landscape of our business and where we have either financial or operational efficiencies to implement. And last but not least is this arena of being thoughtful and putting business practices into place that are now labeled as ‘sustainable,’ that are both sustainable in the long term but also environmentally and people-minded. This involves working with our COO who handles all the day-to-day supply chain projects and, because we own our manufacturing, a lot of time is spent on thinking about what categories we want to go into next, how we plan for those, and get ourselves ready to be proficient in those arenas.”
CITIZENS OF HUMANITY HAS BEEN A LEADER IN SUSTAINABLE DENIM. HOW DID YOU COME TO IDENTIFY SUSTAINABILITY AS A PRIORITY?
“I’m an optimist by nature and someone who holds myself and other people accountable for doing something and not talking about it. I don't ever view things through the lens of ‘How’s this going to look? How do we market this?’ I view it through the lens of what feels right. When it comes to sustainability, everyone has to start and do it now, and I personally can make a much bigger impact on the world by thinking about it within my working day.
“What’s always excited me, motivated me, and makes me feel connected to this industry is the people. I love humankind. I love people and bringing out the best in people. And part of that is understanding that to think about a business as sustainable, you really are, first and foremost, thinking about the livelihood of individuals.
“In practice, this meant we decided not to use plastics and invested in biodegradable bags for our packaging. And we made changes to our laundry. The denim industry uses wet processing, and so we’ve been using laser equipment to change and reduce chemical usage. Another thing that attracted me to Citizens was that we make a lot of products in the United States. We’re bringing more economic life to people who live in different communities in our own backyard. That’s really gratifying.
"There’s a confidence people feel when they put on something that makes them feel good and is also very much themselves.”
WHAT DISTINGUISHES AGOLDE FROM WHAT’S ON THE MARKET, AND EVEN OTHER CITIZENS BRANDS?
“AGOLDE has a confidence and boldness to the products. There’s a simplicity to them. It’s so well thought-through and it makes everyone feel good. For instance, I’m 54, I have 13-year-old daughters, and then I have friends that are of different sizes, shapes, and personal styles who all wear the same styles So I think that as we land on something that we think is iconic for the brand, there’s inclusiveness of fit and style and comfort that allow people to participate. There are also a lot of references in the brand that are familiar. They feel inspired by ‘my favorite old jeans from x period of time.’ There’s an emotional connection that people see or feel that makes them want to participate. And we intentionally want to be a brand that invites and appeals to a broad range of folks.”
LET’S TALK AGOLDE FOR ARGENT! HOW DID THIS PARTNERSHIP COME ABOUT?
“Things happen for us and our brands in the most authentic, organic way. We had been in contact with the nail polish brand Olive & June a while ago and the founder, Sarah Gibson Tuttle, is really good friends with Sali. She brought up Argent and I said, ‘Oh my gosh I love that brand, I follow them on Instagram!’ I think it’s super interesting because the values and the feel of Argent are very similar in my mind to AGOLDE. It’s fresh, it’s forward, but it’s still something you’re going to wear every day.
“Sali and I talked and, when she was describing what was going on, it was at a time also when we started to see customers want to or actually wear denim to work. They always wore AGOLDE to the office, but there was a post-covid-era acceptability around it. Even financial people I talked to would say, ‘I never wear jeans and a blazer to work, but now when I go to the office a couple days a week, I can.’ This is reflective of this time in the world. The collaboration felt believable to us because the values of Argent were so similar, and the messages, and even the people and causes that are featured.
“We’ve also communicated more versatility in our products over the last couple of years—how you can wear them, how you can style them—and I think it resonates here. As people possibly buy fewer things because they’re being sustainable, thoughtful, or economical, pieces that can take you anywhere in your life are the pieces that are covetable and fit into the capsule, modern wardrobe. Plus, I think both brands are fun, we don’t take ourselves so seriously—there’s a lot that’s similar.”
WHAT’S DENIM’S PLACE IN THE FUTURE OF WORKWEAR?
“We see denim and workwear being one and the same. We’re seeing stretch and comfort being super important going forward, and neater finishes and less destruction. Slightly cleaner and darker washes feel more refined and dressier, as well. I think a lot of people are elevating from the casual head-to-toe sweats from covid, but they still want—and will always want—this category of product. Part of it is the dressing up of the world again. I see people getting a little more dressed up to fly, to travel, they’re going out to dinner more, and things like that.”
YOU’VE BEEN WITH CITIZENS FOR A REMARKABLE 13 YEARS. WHAT’S THE MOST EXCITING PART OF THIS CHAPTER?
“I can’t believe it’s been 13 years. There's part of me that wishes things were not as complicated. The world is more complicated, but that’s what keeps things fresh and new. It's not 13 years of the same thing. It’s probably an incremental six months of the same thing, and then you solve and tackle that challenge. So what’s exciting for me is all the brands have a lot of potential for growth. They all have their own unique opportunities, whether it’s product expansions or distributions or geographic markets we’re not in yet.
“Partnerships like AGOLDE for Argent and working with like-minded people, brands, and companies is super interesting, too. I think there's more transparency in the industry and more of us are coming together and talking about things and working on projects that are important. So for me, in part, what's exciting is the quality of the relationships that we’ve built over the past 13 years are only getting better and are yielding so many wonderful things because they are genuine and there’s an eye on the long term.”